The Ghosts In Our Machine

Siobhan’s Ghost-Free Journey: Day 4 with special guest Victoria Moran

Today Siobhan is joined by special guest Victoria Moran.  Victoria is an author, holistic lifestyle coach, inspirational speaker, and the director and founder of Main Street Vegan Academy.  Main Street Vegan Academy is a 6-day, in-person intensive in NYC,  that trains and certifies vegan lifestyle coaches.

Victoria  joins us today to answer two great questions that Siobhan has:

1. Why do so many former vegans revert to eating meat when they are in poor physical health? Does this suggest that the vegan diet is not adequate for maintaining our health and recovering our bodies from harm or sickness?

2. How does a vegan justify owning a pet who relies on a meat based diet? Say for example, you have a carnivorous pet cat (like me) who actually needs to eat meat to survive and cannot live off of a vegan diet. Feeding the cat canned food from the grocery store is technically supporting the meat industry, but if its contents are essentially made up of scraps that cannot be used or sold to humans otherwise, does that make it alright? Or, should people buy local farm-raised meat instead? Or, perhaps, should people not own cats as pets as all? What’s an animal lover to do?


For the Ghosts,

Mentors Donna and Rosemary

The opinions we express as GFJ Mentors are ours personally. We are not professional health practitioners.  Neither are we treating a specific health care issue.  That means we are not offering advice on health-care problems. If you  are experiencing a health-care problem, it is important to seek the advice of a health professional. However we are experienced, practicing vegans and we look forward to coaching you on your journey.


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  1. lizmars September 19, 2013 at 9:05 am


    Hi, Siobhan. Congrats on undertaking this major adventure. You ask big questions! Let’s start with the first one, people who leave the vegan fold. As I’ve observed when this happens, it’s seldom about actually feeling ill. More often something happens in a person’s life – a new boyfriend maybe, or lots of travel for work, or the extended family puts on pressure, or a doctor suggests that vegan diet is deficient in something or other – and that stress or that suggestion or that desire to belong causes the person to revert to the familiar.

    We’re programmed a little tiny kids with what’s normal. Eating animal foods is one of the “normalities” and we form positive associations with it. There’s ice cream and cake on birthdays, hot dogs at baseball games, Mom’s roast beef and Gramma’s fried chicken – the specifics vary but having animal foods in the memory bank is pretty much universal. In leaving those foods behind, a lot of people don’t deal with the psychological shift that has to take place. They leave off the act of eating the foods, but their psyche is still waiting for turkey on Thanksgiving.

    Another way to look at recidivism was just presented to me yesterday when Melanie Joy, Ph.D., author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, was the guest on the Main Street Vegan radio show. Maybe you know that Dr. Joy coined the term carnism, the idea that it’s okay to eat some animals but not others, and that she writes extensively on the entrenched nature of carnism in our society. She says that when someone stops eating animal foods – for reasons of personal health, maybe – but does not consciously step out from the carnistic paradigm, they’re likely to go back to eating those foods because, at a very deep level, they believe that that’s okay. (I may not be doing justice to her brilliant reasoning, so I recommend that you listen to yesterday’s show – – and read her book.)

    Since you’re embarking on a vegan lifestyle as a Ghost-Free Journey, with the plight of the animals at the core of the change, you’re already chipping away at that carnistic paradigm. If you should feel less than fabulous at some point in your life, you’ll deal with it by improving your vegan diet and taking other steps to encourage a return to health. You won’t go back to eating animal foods. That’s the difference: when it’s a commitment, it sticks.

    As for genuine health concerns, most people find that a vegan diet done right makes them healthier. This is why lots of people do it in the first place. Ginny Messina, MS, RD, is a great proponent of eating in a way that makes this work well for everybody who does it. In books she’s written or co-written (i.e., Vegan for Life and Vegan for Her), she recommends healthy food; a little judicious supplementation (vitamin B12, of course, vitamin D for many people, possibly an algae-based DHA/EPA [omega-3], as well as zinc and, for people who don’t use iodized salt or regularly eat seaweed, some source of iodine); and enough fat and calories to keep people from feeling hungry and dissatisfied, the way it feels on some icky, deprivation-style weight loss diet.

    I know myself, as a vegan of nearly thirty years now, that when I eat whole, fresh foods, lots of salads and juices, plus some heavier foods (beans, quinoa, that sort of thing), to feel grounded and satisfied, I find myself living in a very happy body. I also need to take care of myself with sleep and exercise and dealing with stress. So often a person will go vegan, feel a bit off, and say “It’s the food,” when if you look at their lives you see that they’ve been working long hours, flying around on airplanes, and arguing a lot with their significant other. In a case like this, it’s not food or some nutritional lack that’s making them feel bad: their life is making them feel bad.

    And what do they do? Return to the status quo. It’s hard to control a boss and a boyfriend, but it’s easy to order the salad with grilled chicken on it. Bottom line: some people will try veganism and it won’t last. Some will return to it. We can’t control what goes on with them, but we can be committed to this, and be the best examples of the vegan life as we know how to be.

    Hope this helps.
    -Victoria Moran

    • Mentor Rosemary September 19, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Victoria, thank you for joining Siobhan’s GFJ today, and thoughtfully and eloquently answering these tough questions.

      I agree with you, and have observed that when people who eat a plant-based diet and return to eating animal products, it’s usually due to some other stressor in their life. If that stressor is a health issue, most likely it can be resolved by tweaking their nutrition, as you state. In the end, we can’t control what others decide, but we can live our lives being the best example as possible.
      The underlying commitment to being vegan (as opposed to “plant-based”) for reasons other than diet- only, fortifies and insures a more lasting change.

      Siobhan is on her way~

    • Mentor Rosemary September 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      I’m listening to Victoria’s interview with Melanie Joy, and I highly ,highly,recommend it to everyone! I’ve read Melanie’s book, and have heard her presentations several times. Even so, there is so much to metabolize~listening again is refreshing and empowering/inspiring. It’s so important for us, as vegans to understand the social psychology of eating meat, as it helps us advocate for veganism with carnism in mind, and with compassion.

      “To every creature~ his own life is very dear”

      • Mentor Donna September 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm

        Absolutely, Rosemary. It really is so important to understand the psyche of those who we wish to influence – and to reach out with compassion. We must represent the animals in the most loving way that they deserve.

    • Siobhan September 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      I completely agree with this, Victoria. I think when people choose a vegetarian or vegan diet simply for health reasons, it’s obviously going to be harder for them to stick with it and ignore their cravings. But once you go beyond that superficial level and start experiencing major feelings of guilt every time you eat an animal, it becomes that much easier to give it up entirely.

      I myself used to be ADDICTED to bacon and chicken…simply because I liked the taste of it. But once I actually made the connection to what I really was eating, how it got to my plate, and what kind of impacts it was having on the world, everything looked so clear and simple and I could no longer continue eating meat. The omnivorous diet works for a lot of people, but it is not something I want to participate in. People ask me all the time “don’t you ever have cravings for bacon?!” and every time I can answer with a wholehearted NO.

      I have read books like the Vegetarian Myth and heard loads of stories from friends about other people who have been vegans for years without any problems until their bodies begin to fall apart and their health fails, and then they switch back to eating meat and their problems are cleared up. For the longest time, this scared me away from becoming a vegan because I have already had a number of health problems as the result of my diet, but you just helped to dispel all of that for me. These reformers were probably not paying close attention to their health in the first place, and not focusing on getting a rounded nutritional vegan diet.

      • Mentor Donna September 19, 2013 at 9:31 pm

        Siobahn, I am so glad that you are feeling reassured by Victoria’s advice. There is such a backlash against vegetarianism/veganism (like the books that you refer to). It only takes one look at Victoria to see how radiant and healthy she is – 30 years into veganism!!
        It always amazes me to hear people talk about how extreme a vegan diet is and how careful we vegans better be – when the mainstream population is existing on fast foods.

        • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 1:38 am

          Exactly!!! I’m sure if there were studies done on long term vegans, you would find that the rates of heart disease and cancer are significantly lower than in the rest of the North American population. Though I have met some pretty unhealthy vegans, but they can be referred to more as starchitarians since they generally avoid vegetables and just substitute breads and pastas for meat and dairy.

          Victoria, after looking through your work and writings I have to say that you may very well be my new role model!

  2. Debra Roppolo September 19, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I’d like to address Siobhan’s question about cat food. I find this comes up a lot and you’ll get different opinions from different people. My perspective is this: I’ve done a ton of research on the subject and I am not comfortable with the notion of feeding my cats a vegan diet. My first responsibility is to the animals in my care, so I have to do what I believe is best for them and their continued good health. So I accept the fact that I live in an imperfect world and I have omnivorous cats. What veganism comes down to is doing the least harm. As Bruce Friedrich says, the animals don’t need your purity, they need your advocacy.

    • Mentor Rosemary September 19, 2013 at 10:21 am

      Can anyone be “pure” anyway? We kill animals everyday when vegetables and grains are harvested, we used fuel for our cars, there may be whey in the bread we just ate at a friends dinner party.

      I don’t think this means “throw caution and care to the wind” at all, but agree with you and what Bruce Friedrich says, Debra~ we do our best, make informed decisions and strive to cause the least harm.

  3. Lorena Elke September 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

    In relation to cat food…it is a conundrum for me. I have researched the issue, have watched good friends feed a vegan diet to their multi-rescue cat household and watched many of the cats get UTI’s. I know there are improved vegan options for cats and more work is being done on this issue. I have not made the transition in my own feline household because over half of my rescue cats are above the age of 14….and many already have health issues. I am therefore supporting the meat industry. I will not ever try to justify this away…that is the truth. What I do to try to balance this is to remain a purist in my own veganism…people have poked fun at me for this strict commitment I have for my own body to be vegan, but this is the only way I can begin to address the issue of feeding meat-based diet to my cats.

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 1:43 am

      It seems like you have a very level head in regards to all this. It kind of breaks my heart to see people feed their cats vegan diets because it’s simply unnatural and harmful to their health…so keeping that in mind and “making up for it” by focusing on your vegan diet is an excellent way to compensate, in my opinion!

      Also, kudos to you and your cat rescues! I am also a foster mom for cats 🙂

  4. Adrienne September 19, 2013 at 11:09 am

    It seems to me that we shouldn’t try to impose our views on morality to other animals. I think the whole idea behind animal rights is that animals should be able to do what is natural for them, whether that involves eating gazelles or eucalyptus leaves. It is tricky when we are talking about domesticated animals that don’t survive very well in nature without our help. Again, animals should be able to do what is natural for them. In the case of cats, this usually means consuming meat. Is it right to feed your cat meat at the expense of the life of another animal? By feeding your cat, are you participating in the whole messed-up meat industry system? It’s complicated! It seems to me that the best we can do is to spay/neuter our pets, promote rescue, and try to reduce the number of overall number of domesticated animals reliant on the perpetuation of the meat industry.

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 1:50 am

      I fully agree to this, Adrienne. Spaying/neutering is crucial. Also just advocating for animals in general is something that can have huge effects…I have caused at least 5 friends to stop eating meat altogether just as a result of me going on rants or getting them to think about and discuss things they never considered before.

      I think the more extreme/rigid thinking vegans should stick to buying pets that are naturally herbivores in order to prevent the vegan dilemma from happening.

  5. Adrienne September 19, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Lorena, I think you make a great point. We can (for the most part) control what we put into our own bodies. Some things don’t neatly fit into the vegan paradigm, but I don’t think that in any way takes away from veganism. Some things we can do, some things we can do the best we can. The most important thing is to have an open and non-judgmental dialogue that allows us to try to work out some of the gray areas 🙂

  6. lizmars September 19, 2013 at 11:16 am


    Siobhan – ‘Hoping your day is going well and that you’re enjoying some fabulous vegan food along the way. Thanks to Liz for doing the posting for me – I’m en route from New York City to Portland, Oregon, where I’ll be speaking at the Northwest VegFest this weekend. If anyone wants to get in touch with me, my site is, and the email is

    Okay, onto your second question, Siobhan. This is a great one because it’s a conundrum. It’s one of those questions for which is there is no easy answer, something that can be all said and done and wrapped up with a bow, the way we humans like things. Also in this category are questions about Eskimos who have no access to plant foods, about using lifesaving medications or surgical procedures that have been tested on animals, what to do when there’s an infestations of insects or even rats whom we know are mammals like us, intelligent and highly sentient. These are knotty problems. In the end, we have to do the best we can with what we’ve got, which is an imperfect world.

    Your specific question about feeding companion animals brings up a larger, philosophical question: If kindness and compassion are supposed to be the way of things, why do carnivorous animals exist? Are lions and tigers and sharks God’s mistakes, or some evolutionary aberration? I can’t begin to answer a question like that. Some religious people try to. There’s the Biblical prophecy that at some future time of genuine, universal peace on earth: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). Maybe something like is in store in some idyllic time ahead, and I like to think that we who are vegan and compassionate today are helping, in our own small way, to bring that about. But we’re here now. Lions are hunting on the savannahs and your cat is in the kitchen because he heard you open the pantry door.

    I’ve spent most of my life with cats – Benjamin first, then Henri, then Albert, all of whom showed up when I was in my late twenties. We adopted Bobby later – I was forty-one. He was with us till two years ago when he passed away. I fed all our cats meat-based cat food. I tried taking the vegetarian route with them on a few occasions, but it didn’t work. They’d fast for days. I have read about, and even met, gorgeous, healthy, and evidently happy vegetarian cats. Their diets are supplemented with taurine (that’s an amino acid not found in plants; without it, cats get very sick and eventually go blind) and arachidonic acid. Commercial cat foods made of all vegan ingredients and supplemented with the necessary nutrients are on the market. The site offers many of these. Another site,, offers the supplements and recipes for making your own food for cats. Another resource is Armaiti May, DVM,, who does reasonably priced telephone consults about the health and feeding of companion animals.

    I have a whole sidebar on this in my book, Main Street Vegan, but the short version is: By general consensus at this point, dogs can eat a vegan diet quite easily (my dog, Forbes, and my grand-dogs, Oliver and Tala, are thriving without meat), but it can be tricky with cats. They may not eat the food, or they may supplement a vegan diet with mice or some other prey, or they may not thrive. It’s great to try – and starting in kittenhood, with professional support, it can work – but more often than not, vegans with cats in the family feed their cats meat.

    Then the question becomes, what kind of meat? You’ve obviously thought a lot about this. My idea on it was always to choose the best food for the health of the cat. I mean, some other animal was already killed; the least I could do would be feed my cat the most ideal food for his physiology and give this animal the best life possible. I went through a lot of different foods through the years – the not-so-great stuff when I was young and poor, Iams for awhile until I learned that they’re not just a meat-selling company but they’ve also done horrible experiments on animals, and I finally ended up with raw, organic chicken pieces that you buy frozen at pet supply shops. Bobby loved the stuff. When I first fed it to him, he looked up at me with a look that said, “After all these years, you finally get it.”

    I chose the organic option (they have regular, too, and it’s cheaper) because I believe the conditions for chickens on organic farms are at least a little better – not enough better to justify humans’ eating chicken, but since I was going to buy it anyway to feed to my cat, it seemed worth it to support the somewhat-less-suffering option. Dealing with the raw meat was distasteful to me – with the frozen stuff, you actually have to cut up little pieces of chicken. You see some blood. It’s not all neat and tidy like cat food from a can or a pouch. But he thrived, I survived, and like all my cats, Bobby lived to be very old.

    After his death and a mourning period, we adopted again, but this time we opted to adopt a dog. A cat – or two cats — would have suited our lifestyle better: my husband and I both travel, and we live in New York City in a high-rise without a yard. We chose to bring a dog into our family, however, because I didn’t want to have to face the meat dilemma with a cat. I tried fixing homemade food for Forbes (that’s what my daughter does for her dogs), but it didn’t work very well. Now I’ve discovered one dry dog food, Ami Pet, and one canned food, Evolution, that he loves and is doing great with.

    A couple of days ago, we had a substitute dog walker who told me that he’d felt bad that he couldn’t give Forbes a treat like he did the other dogs “since he’s vegan.” I said, “Oh, no: he’s not vegan. I feed him vegan food. Left to his own devices, he’d eat chicken bones off the sidewalk and try to catch squirrels.” In other words, I’m the vegan. I feed Forbes vegan food because he’s part of my family, the way I fed my daughter vegan when she was growing up. She’s opted to stay with it because she’s human and can make those kinds of choices. Forbes will stay with it because that’s the way I’ll keep feeding him for all his – hopefully – long and healthy life. In that case, the “least harm,” in my view anyway, would have been for he walker to have given Forbes a non-vegan treat so he wasn’t left out. On the other hand, it was very sweet of him to have respected my veganism.

    In the end, then, I think, Siobhan, it’s about what Jay Dinshah, the co-founder of the American Vegan Society way back in 1960 used to tell me: “This is about doing the most good and the least harm possible.” It’s not weighing good and harm on some sensitive laboratory scale; it’s about following your instincts and doing the best you can. And you are: you’re doing good for farmed animals by choosing to be vegan. You’re doing good to your body for the same reason. You’re doing good to your cat by giving him (her?) a home and loving him and feeding him the best way you know of for right now. If you learn something better tomorrow, you can try that. It’s all any of us can do, the best we can today.

    – Victoria Moran

    • Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 2:11 am

      Wow Victoria, you are one wise articulate woman! You have raised so many great points and have actually made me feel so much more at ease about everything I initially asked. Thank you for all your help!

      I’m sure my cats would love that frozen chicken…lately I have been giving them a lot of real meat because my boyfriend never finishes all of his food, so they’ve been quite spoiled with leftovers of his barbecued chicken and salmon and such. You’re so right, veganism is about doing the best you can…there are a lot of grey areas and conundrums we will encounter, but in the end it’s all about what you feel comfortable with as an individual. When I’m older and have enough money, I will definitely be getting a dog from a shelter or rescue such as the beagle one from the movie…and I would certainly try to feed them a vegetarian diet like you do with yours!

      Thank you so much for all your wonderful insight today. I will be ordering your book for my birthday this year and can’t wait to read it!

  7. Debra Roppolo September 19, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Wonderfully said, Victoria! Thank you!

    • Victoria Moran September 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      Thanks, Debra. Sometimes there are no easy answers and the big challenge for us as vegans is to live up to the highest we have (that’s the phrase Peace Pilgrim always used…) and respect others who are attempting to live up to theirs.

      • Mentor Donna September 19, 2013 at 9:20 pm

        Thank you so much for joining in today, Victoria. Your insights about people who follow a vegan diet and then revert back to their old dietary ways ring so true. I have met so many people who say ‘oh, I used to be vegan’ with the same casual tone as if they were talking about the model of a car that they used to have. In those cases it never really was about the animals – it was about following a trend, doing it because some actor was vegan, doing it to lose weight – numerous reasons minus the one that would make a lasting commitment – respect for all animal life.
        Siobhan, I hope that you feel reassured by what you are reading today. Your desire to live a cruelty-free life is what will make it easy for you to forge ahead. You have so many insights of your own – I believe that you have a very deep understanding of what it means to be Ghost-Free.

  8. lizmars September 19, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you to Victoria Moran, best selling author MAIN STREET VEGAN, which is also an Academy that Victoria runs out of NYC. She certifies Vegan Coaches. I have met Victoria, and she is just as lovely in person as she is through her writing: warm, lyrical, thoughtful and very well informed. Victoria, you have offered some excellent insight today – I wish thousands of people could view it!

    We encourage you all to read her comments above.

    For the Ghosts,


  9. Siobhan September 20, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Hey guys,
    I thought I’d share this picture of me taken when I was 3 or 4 years old with my beloved cat, Spooks. I still smile at this photo every time I see it, because to me it illustrates how much enthusiasm and adoration I have within me for not only cats, but animals in general. It’s also just hilarious because we’re about the same size!

    • Mentor Rosemary September 20, 2013 at 9:58 am

      I love this photo Siobhan! You made the connection as a child and it is illustrated in this photo and throughout your GFJ. <3<3

  10. Nina September 20, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Siobhan, that is so cute-I wish there was a ‘Like ‘ button! Just keep that connection going, it’s what this GFJ is all about isn’t it?